DANO PENDYGRASSE | THIRTY YEAR ANNIVERSARY
Dano Pendygrasse has been part of snowboarding since its formative years. From Craig Kelly to the Whiskey movies, and onto the Forum 8, he was there with camera in hand. 2021 marks 30 years since he got his first camera and was published. If you follow Dano's Instagram, you've probably seen the "Deep Dive" he has started, going through thousands of his photos year by year. I'm thankful Dano took the time to sit down with me, and speechless he's sharing some of his never before seen photos of Craig Kelly with us. Take time to read through the interview, and really look at these photos. These images are special and his stories are real. Dano Pendygrasse is a pillar in our snowboard culture and history. Enjoy.
By Rob Lemay | @_lemay
Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. Selfishly, I want to pick your brain as a photographer, and as a fan of snowboarding, I just want to hear your stories. You’re celebrating 30 years as a published snowboard photographer and going through all your old photos. How many photos are we talking about here?
I’m a total photo hoarder. I didn’t throw anything away. Unless it was wildly out of focus, or total crap, I kept everything.
I love seeing the deep dive on Instagram.
Thanks. When I added the “Ask Me Anything” part, it got really crazy because people started doing requests. I thought it would just be a couple of my friends like “What about that time, yo?”.
It’s been really cool to follow. It’s a real snowboard photo archive.
I still have photos of Craig Kelly that I’ve just scanned this year for the first time that nobody's ever seen. Like the one that I put out on Instagram yesterday, it was the first time anyone's ever seen that photo.
And that's from one day, a really, really productive day. People are like, "Oh, you spent a lot of time with Craig." Nah, we rode together a few times, but I only shot with him one solid day.
How many frames do you think you got from one day?
A bunch got published, but I have, what I would consider to be A-grade photos, probably 10. Which, for some people that's all I got shooting with them their entire career. And then some photos have aged really well too. Like as I get older, I see them in a different light. Like this photo that when I first looked at, I was like, "I don't even see anything there." And then you look at it now, after he's passed away and with context, it feels really powerful in a different way. So, some of the stuff was instantly publishable and obviously like, "That's a great Craig photo." Then there's other stuff that has grown up a lot. It's cool. Photos age like wine, some look like shit now and some just get better and better.
Yeah, I agree 100%. You've worked a few different magazines over your career. Do you still follow snowboard media as much as you used to?
Yeah, a lot. I spent about a decade kind of away from it. I wouldn't say I had completely burnt out, but I definitely needed a change of scenery. In that time, I was in a relationship and I wasn't really around snowboarding that much. It kind of dragged me away from the mountains. I'm not blaming anyone. That's just how it goes sometimes. I just kind of didn't care. Snowboarding was getting into the really spin-to-win contest scene, and it got … I mean, I grew up in the era of freestyle skiing where freestyle aerials were doing triple twisting triples and then the quad quad, and I watched that game of one-upping on spins in freestyle skiing. I always thought it was just corny and boring. Eventually it was like, "Now what are you going to do?" And it was like, "Nothing." The whole thing just fucking flopped. I look at the 14's and the quad cork and whatever is going on in contests, I mean I’ll always watch most contests, but I just couldn't care less. It's an impressive feat and I'm stoked, but I can't follow it and I guarantee that 90% of people who are watching it outside of snowboarding have no idea what's going on. They don't know if they're coming in switch or normal, they don't know if they spin frontside or backside, they don't know the difference between a flat spin and a cork. It's TV audience, man. The reason that snowboard is big is because a lot of people who don't really know about snowboarding are watching it. I think it has lost its appeal. [We have to mention this conservation happened prior to Natural Selection] Having said that, there's so many dudes doing cool shit on snowboards these days. When Side Hit Euphoria came out, I was just like, "Holy shit, that's it." Because it's surreal. It's the stuff that anyone can hit on every single day, and it felt like us, how we learned to snowboard or how we learned to do an air.
Yeah, it’s relatable to us.
Totally. But it's not just relatable in a way that it's like, "That's the terrain I would hit." But it's impressive in a way, like, "How the fuck would you go that big and find that mini tranny?" It's a whole different level of something that's available to everybody. I love that shit. And some people who are putting blunt landings into shit or that do a laid out method into a corked spin. There's cool shit going on. Anytime that there's a really strong element of style and innovation in something, I'm going to probably like it. So yeah, I definitely follow it. I follow it more now then I have in a while, for sure. Backcountry is such a trip though. I still see stuff that we hit for the first time and people are doing the same tricks.
You’re totally right, but even Don Schwartz was telling me..
Yeah, I was talking to him this morning. He said how he’s seeing a new level of progression. He’s been guiding up at Powder Mountain for years and the Oakley team came up and started ripping lines that he hadn’t ever considered before. Personally, I definitely see a refinement out there. Yes, there are some same tricks on the same features, but that’s cause the bar was set so high to start, and the ones pushing it now have to really step up and bring their own flavour.
Talking to Don was the best. You can hear the love in his voice when he was getting nostalgic about the early Whistler days. One of the standout stories was how hyped he was on this sticker placement you and him did together.
Oh my god. It’s still there.
I asked him to send me a photo. He said he always sends you one when he drives that route.
In those days, the Snoboard Shop triangles had some really good vinyl that would really stick to anything.
Yeah, he said they were industrial strength.
At least the initial ones were. They looked like a warning sign, so a lot of people were like, “Oh, that’s just a warning, I won’t pull it off.” But that one, I just don’t know how anyone would even take it off. I was holding him by his fucking ankles and he was hanging over traffic putting the sticker on. Yelling up at me, “Wait, I’ve just got to clean it off.” It’s still there to this day.
Yeah he said it’s on the highway overpass on your way to Banff heading east. He also mentioned you had the nickname, “Cargo”, back in the early days?
Fuck, I forgot I was called Cargo. I was 17 when I moved to Whistler, and my older brother got his license, and he was the one who got to use the car. And living with those guys, nobody was going to let me learn on their car. Plus it was Whistler in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, you could just walk out into the street and somebody would see you and you’d get a ride. But then I started getting sent on these trips where people would send me the plane ticket and say, “Your rental car is waiting for you at the airport.” I was like, “Oh, is anyone else going to be there?” There were also periods where I didn’t leave Whistler for 24 months. It was just like, “Why?”
Two years! Yeah, I get it. I mean Whistler is self-sufficient in a way. It has everything to keep you happy.
Totally. The thing that I missed was live shows. There was live music in Whistler, but I missed going to shows in the city and I think that’s one of the things that got me to start going back down. But like ’87 to ’91 or ’92, I barely left Whistler.
Nice. Man, I wish I could go back in time to experience those days. I was also messaging with Alex Warburton. He said to ask you about living with hippies in the basement.
I don’t think I can talk about too much of that.
I will say that mushrooms grow free and plentiful near and around Whistler.
It was just one of those things. That house was really big, and at some point, the suite downstairs got rented by two other guys I knew, Clark Gatehouse, and Ian Free, great guys. I ended up moving down with them, and they were hippies. They went to Dead shows and came back with acid and all the stuff that goes along with that.
Nice. That’s pretty tame in the grand scheme of things.
It’s tame, but my parents are still alive so I don’t want to share too much about that.
There’re some stories I can’t tell until they’re gone.
I feel the same, no need to scare my mom anymore than I already do.
Totally. I don’t think mine googles my name, but you never know.
It must have got a little crazy in the early Whiskey video days. I’m told you were right in there but that you never got too crazy.
Totally. At one point at the end of the ’90s, Kearns and I quit drinking for a year. We made a $5,000 bet, and if either one of us drank, you owed $5,000. If either one of us even asked to get out of the bet, you owed $5,000. So it was a self-sealing bet. There was no way of getting out of it. We both went the whole way. Although I heard many years later that he had a slip up, but I don’t give a fuck. When we got to the end, I was like, “Cool, been sober for a year,” and went another two months.
Nice man, good work.
That night though, Kearns was like, “Bong” and was just straight back to it.
Sticking with Kearns, that brings me to a question from Brocklebank. He wants to know what happened after Kearns knocked down the ice sculpture at Big White.
I went home and they kept partying. I had my cameras and they had video cameras, but they were thrashing a video camera every two weeks, and didn’t really care. They were sort of semi-disposable. But my camera was worth fucking five grand for body, plus lenses, so I wasn’t willing to let that shit get destroyed. By the time Johnson was on the pool table, I was already back at home.
Time to get the camera back home at least.
But that’s not the story. He hit the ice sculpture, and that's the thing that really pissed those guys off. Interestingly, you could walk on their pool game and kick the balls around, no big deal, but you tackle the ice sculpture and that’s a big deal. They got out of the bar fine. There was maybe a bit of a scuffle, but it wasn't a big deal. What happened was back in the condo when we got back. We were staying at Johnson's parents’ condo, which is super small, and there were like six of us in it. It was a super competitive group of guys as you can imagine. I don't mean that like who can do the better trick, but more like just making fun of each other, that was a sport that never stopped. It was kind of the basis of Whiskey era, just competitively making fun of each other. Later on that night, a whole bunch of guys from the mountain decided to come up to the condo and set things straight. They knocked on the door at like three in the morning and filed in. I think the door was unlocked. There was a bunch of fucking drunk, passed out or, about to be passed out people like, "What the fuck?" And I remember them standing along the bar and not saying anything. It was fucking weird to me. And then one of them starts punching his fist into his hand. And it was like, "Oh, this is on." And Johnson, because it's his parents' place and he's concerned about it. It's one thing to get drunk at the bar, another in your parents' condo or whatever. And it was a basement condo, it wasn't super fancy Whistler style, it was just old school, Big White. Johnson goes right up to the guy and says, “Get out of my place." And the guy's like, "No," and Johnson, I watched his eyes go black and then he jumped, he had to jump to punch the guy in the jaw because the guy was so fucking tall and Johnson was 5’8’-5’9” maybe, and knocked him straight to the ground. He hit him three times before he hit the ground, knocked the guy out and then the whole place exploded. It was a fucking brawl. And the other guys got worked.
Yeah. I remember at the end of it, after it kind of broke up was, everyone was like, "Woah, we got them," or whatever. Halopoff was screaming at a guy as he was running away, "You made me break my hand." Because he punched him so many times. Anyways, brutal. In the morning, there was this guy that came back to get his radio that was knocked off in the mayhem. Hagar’s on the fucking radio going to the whole mountain, "Ha ha," and just heckling the entire mountain. Can you imagine being lift maintenance in the morning and you're just going up to work on the lifts and you hear this random rant from these kids basically. It turns out the guy was the head of the local fire department, and there was one that was the head of mountain ops. They were fucking reputable dudes. Anyway, there's footage of the guy coming in and begging for his radio back. We filmed it, because of course we did. And it didn't go in the movie because it's so fucking incriminating. He’s talking about how his wife kicked him out and stuff. It's funny because it's kind of like after a hockey brawl where by the end of it, he got his radio back, and we're all just joking around. But they did come back and steal Johnson's snowboard, so…
Damn, sounds like a bit of the wild west of snowboarding. Let's jump back to photography. I want to ask you more of a tech/nerdy question. What are your preferences as far as wide-angle over long-lens, or even camera settings?
For me, it was way more about what I was shooting than how I was shooting it. I learned pretty early on that what the world wanted to see from me was the guys in the space that I was in, doing progressive freestyle stuff on natural terrain. I really focused on that. If that meant that I had to shoot something wide, great, and if it meant that I had to shoot something long lens, great. They wanted to see new stuff on cool terrain, and that's the vast majority of stuff that I shot. It's one of the reasons why I shot a lot of sequences because people were doing a lot of new tricks in front of me.
Yeah, I get that.
But I regret a little bit being so sequence heavy in my life. When you're shooting a sequence, it's like you're documenting this new trick and everyone cares about that for 10 months. And then nobody gives a shit about who did the first whatever. Some people do, but not enough for it to be a really classic image. Which is why some of my earlier stuff is even more classic than the later stuff. I kind of went through a phase with the early stuff where you didn't sequence stuff because it was a lot of straight airs. Later on, I got really obsessed with making an image and less about the trick. But I never stopped wanting the shot to be of natural terrain and progression.
What would you say makes a great photo?
I mean, it's a lot of things. We talked before a little bit about how photos age, sometimes that's because of the person in them. You can have an average photo with a great person, and that will be a good photo. But if you take the name off of it and what makes a photo great, I think it's a unique way of telling a story. If the story is just progressive snowboarding, then how can you make that story interesting? If the story is about backcountry exploration, then how is that story interesting? But you can try a lot of ways to make that happen in a way that's unique, and in the backcountry I don't think that there's a lot of new ground left to tell there. I think that it's been done really well, by really good people, for a really long time. But you have to try. Sometimes people come out with something that's just like, "Holy fuck. I've looked at this thing a million times, and I've never seen it that way."
Yeah, I have definitely heard the late night drunk rambles of old timer’s in Whistler say stuff like, “ Everything’s been done, snowboarding is finished.” For me, even if the trick’s been done, it’s done by someone new, and with some new flavour. It’s also usually part of a new story. But, you also talked about a sequence only lasting 10 months, whereas nowadays you’re lucky for an image to have longevity that spans more than a day or two, before the next big thing.
It's about how you curate the body of work, too. It's not necessarily about a single image, but there are people who have come into snowboarding and shot one really great photo and disappeared, and those photos stand the test of time. There's not very many of them, but it certainly has happened. Then there's people who consistently make ground-breaking images, and I think that you have to take chances to do that and you have to come up with new ideas and approaches. Go back and watch Grant (Brittain), and how he started shooting into the sun with a fucking on-camera strobe to pop the colours. In the late '70s and early '80s, that was groundbreaking and totally beautiful. There's always people who are showing you a thing you haven't seen in a different way. And there's no question that that's still valid. And it's not about what's happening in the trick, because the photos are still fucking amazing. I can get stopped in my tracks by a photo of a turn.
And every once in a while, just a big method shot is going to blow your fucking mind. But there also has to be a universality about it. Like if it's super inside baseball, people fucking don't get it. Like, if it's just so fucking cool, but nobody really understands what's happening.
Like if it’s ahead of it’s time?
For sure. I remember being in tons of conversations in the early to mid '90s where people would be like, "That's fucking whatever. I've seen a fucking frontside air before.” And then the person will be like, "It's switch." And it's like, "Whoa." It changes things. So context matters and the trick matters. But that's maybe too inside for it to become super popular.
But that has that cult value.
It has cult value for sure. But you know, all the photos that people like of mine, that are the most liked, there's an obvious reason people like them. There's an initial impact that's just like, "Shit, that's awesome."
People say that luck favours the prepared, and that it’s the right place at the right time that makes a great photo.
The harder I work, the luckier I get.
Well yeah, you can get away with three-star photos, but when that fourth star hits… and one of those is always going to be luck.
I have to ask about that storm photo that you took.
The one in Vancouver?
Yeah, was that a natural phenomenon or something?
Weird, insane. What I was saying before, there has to be an element of populism. That was just … I walked out on my deck and I was like, "Oh, there's lightning over there." And as the thing went across I'm like, "This is a fucking intense little storm." I was too lazy to get my tripod, I was just doing a little like put it down on my railing and handheld to see if I could catch a lightning strike. And I caught it, I was like, "Oh cool." And then it came across in a burst. So I have, I don't know, like 40 photos of that. For that couple of minutes, I was like, "Jesus, look at this fucking thing.”
Yeah, the skies literally opened. It was like Noah's ark or something almost.
You just don’t see microburst that often. I've seen pictures of them. I've seen people who've filmed them. It happened right over the East End. I still have people getting in touch with me saying, "I was in that storm that day." That's the kind of impact a storm like that has. And they'll be like, "I want to get that shot." I've sold that shot a ton and I don't sell weather photos. But it had a little bit of a viral effect. It went a little bit nuts, and people got super into it.
You know what's hard about that photo? Nothing. Nothing is hard about it at all. It’s just fucking stand there and click the shutter. It’s easy. It was probably aperture priority. Because you don't need to go manual, it wasn't about that. It was about what nature was doing in front of me, it wasn't about what I was doing.
Yeah, it's the right place, right time, 100%. It's also being prepared and having experience and having the right gear. It's all those kinds of things.
Well Dano, it sounds to me like you really love snowboarding. What does the future look like for you? Do you think we will see you out shooting snowboarding again?
I'm missing shooting snowboarding right now. More so than ever before. I think there are great visual stories that aren't being told. I gained a lot of insight since I walked away a decade ago, and I actually feel like I have something to bring to it now that I didn't have before. And I came from editorial, so I really love shooting for a story. It's a bit sad that the glory days of magazine stories are behind us, but those lessons transfer to a lot of the current media world. As Sidechannel grows I'll be certain to shoot snowboarding for us, but ideally I'd like to build and shoot a campaign with a snowboard brand that has a world class team. We started Sidechannel specifically to spend more time snowboarding, and fishing; doing the things we love with people we love. So whether there are paying gigs in snowboarding or not, my goal is to spend more time doing it, and shooting it. I guess it's still the same as it started. Just doing whatever I can to ride more.